Davis Guggenheim, the man who won an Oscar three years ago for "An Inconvenient Truth," has turned his attention to the state of public education in this country. His latest film, "Waiting for Superman," follows five children -- Bianca, Francisco, Anthony, Daisy and Emily -- to document their families' quests for the best education for their kids.
The film paints a stark picture of the problems afflicting public schools. In addition to the vignettes of the five children, viewers are introduced to individuals at the forefront of school reform, chief among them Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children's Zone; Bill Gates, the billionaire who has poured vast resources into efforts to turn schools around; and Michelle Rhee, chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools, who made headlines this summer for firing low-performing teachers.
"You wake up every morning and you know that kids are getting a really crappy education right now," Rhee says in the movie.
"Waiting for Superman" opened in major cities this weekend. Those of us in Buffalo will probably have to wait a few weeks to see it for ourselves. For now, then, we can only look to what others are saying about the film.
By many accounts, the documentary demonizes teachers unions and casts charter schools as a key to salvation. Some critics say the film oversimplifies the path to fixing education. Reactions have been rather predictable. Teachers unions are up in arms over the film, for instance, while Oprah says it's a wake-up call for America to fix its education system.
What seems noteworthy, though, is some of the more nuanced discussion that the film has generated.
For instance, during a "Waiting for Superman" panel discussion in Washington, D.C., Guggenheim said that only about one in five charter schools is outperforming traditional public schools. Likewise, Canada noted that there are some lousy charter schools out there, as well as some outstanding ones.
And American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten -- despite her objections to the film -- offered some thanks to Guggenheim.
"The movie actually is creating far more dialogue about these issues than I can remember. So Davis, thank you for that," she told him.
-- Mary Pasciak